Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Minimal Self, by Christopher Lasch

I thought I would do better with this book. A couple of months ago I read Christopher Lasch’s last book, The Revolt of the Elites, and really got a lot out of it. The Minimal Self I was pretty much assigned as reading when I was studying photography. The last time I read it was probably about 18 years ago. Interestingly, there were lots of passages I’d underlined in the book. Today, reading those same underlined passages, I didn’t even understand what they meant!

The title of the book makes it sound like a self help book. The subtitle is ‘psychic survival in troubled times’. This only confuses things more. The book is actually a critique, in many ways, of self-help culture. Today’s western civilisation has all become about ‘survival’, rather than living life.

There are interesting chapters on art and literature, and how it has degenerated into dead ends and nothingness. There are also salutary passages on corporate and management culture. An interesting series of chapters also on the Holocaust and totalitarianism (my god, what a word that is.)

The first two hundred pages were quite absorbing, but the last 50 or so goes into all this psychoanalytical stuff, weaving it into a political and personal discourse. There was so much discussion of different psychoanalytical (another mind boggling word, do I even know what it means?) schools and controversies that in the end I completely lost track. My reading of Freud is limited. This is the kind of writing that you really need to know a bit of the subject to get an intellectual foot in the door.

By the end of the book, I was completely at a loss as to what the whole point of The Minimal Self was. The book is actually supposed to be an update of, or sequel to, The Culture of Narcissism, a book he published previous to The Minimal Self. I read The Culture of Narcissism many years ago. Maybe I should give it another go to try and figure out what the author is on about.

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